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New Health Secretary to Confront Health Care Reform Hurdles

Obama's nominee, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, will seek to burnish ACA's image amid mid-term election fray

MONDAY, April 14, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- With the resignation of U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Friday, the Affordable Care Act will get a fresh face. But turning around public perception of the controversial health care reform law in a politically charged mid-term election year poses an enormous challenge for the department's next leader, policy experts said.

President Barack Obama on Friday nominated Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the current director of the Office of Management and Budget, to succeed Sebelius, whose tenure was marred by the troubled rollout of the Affordable Care Act's major insurance expansion. If confirmed, Burwell will lead a sprawling department whose agencies include the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Certainly, this is an opportunity for a slightly new take on the ACA," Elizabeth Carpenter, director of the health reform practice at Avalere Health L.L.C., a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm, told HealthDay. "There's an opportunity to potentially reach out to Congress, but I think anyone is going to struggle to truly press the reset button. And, obviously, this is so highly political that I think anyone assuming this role is going to have a difficult time."

Robert Field, professor of health management and policy at Drexel University's School of Public Health in Philadelphia, agreed that the next secretary faces an uphill battle because of the administration's failure to highlight the law's positive aspects. "I think they need a strong, clear, consistent message, which so far they haven't done," Field told HealthDay. "I think they should be referring to it as the guaranteed coverage law," he added, noting that the "Affordable Care Act" isn't really affordable for everyone. "But what the law does do is it guarantees that everyone who wants coverage can get it."

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